19/05/2020 4:08 PM AEST | Updated 19/05/2020 5:55 PM AEST

Coronavirus In Australia: Students Return To School As Death Toll Reaches 100

A major step towards normalising life amid the coronavirus pandemic.

James D. Morgan via Getty Images
Welcome Back to school signs outside Fort Street Public School in the suburb of Millers Point on May 13, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

NSW students will return to school full-time next week, a major step towards normalising life amid the coronavirus pandemic, as the nation on Tuesday recorded its 100th fatality from the disease.

While a grim milestone, Australia’s death toll remains well below the fatalities reported in North America, Europe and other parts of Asia despite the Pacific country’s earlier exposure to the pandemic.

The 100th fatality was a 93-year-old woman from a care home outside Sydney, the origin of 19 deaths, local media reported.

The directive from premier Gladys Berejiklian to reopen schools full-time lifts childcare responsibilities for the parents and carers of around 800,000 children in public schools as Australia seeks to stem a surge in unemployment and restart the economy.

“From now on, we don’t ever want to see a situation where all schools are closed,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, although she cautioned that individual, temporary closures were likely to contain future outbreaks.

The decision caught the state’s teachers union by surprise, with Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos saying it “caused a lot of concern, frustration and anger among teachers and principals.”

“They turned themselves inside out, not once, not twice, but repeatedly, trying to come to terms with this crisis and fulfilling their professional and social and moral responsibilities,” Gavrielatos told the ABC. 

Australia’s states and territories are beginning to allow more public activity under a three-step federal government plan to end two months of shutdowns that officials have credited with keeping the country’s exposure to the pandemic relatively low.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) warned on Tuesday the country is facing an “unprecedented” economic contraction, though massive fiscal and monetary policy stimulus would help cushion the blow.

Minutes of the RBA’s meeting earlier this month showed the baseline case was for gross domestic product to fall by 10% in the first half and 6% for all of 2020.

Changes in New South Wales are being closely watched as the state accounts for more than 40% of Australia’s 7,060 confirmed COVID-19 infections, and almost half the 100 deaths nationally.

In Victoria, the resumption of school was continuing on a staggered basis, with full-time lessons for all pupils not due to resume until early next month.